Not far from Jasper is the largest ice field in the Rocky Mountains: the Columbia Icefield. This ice mass lies between the Banff and Jasper National Parks along the Alberta-British Columbia border.
Though the Icefield is comprised of several glaciers, the most well known is the Athabasca Glacier. The Athabasca Glacier is the most visited glacier in North America!
This is partly because of its ease of access. The Athabasca Glacier is visible from the Icefield Parkway – known as one of the world’s most scenic drives. Driving through the Rocky Mountains is beautiful no matter where you are, but the Icefield Parkway (highway 93) is stunning. It is remote, wild, and dramatic with its bordering jagged mountain peaks.
The glacier is also directly visible from the Icefield Discovery Centre, a tourist hotspot for learning more about the ice field and organizing tours and day trips. Located adjacent to the Discovery Center is the Glacier View Lodge, a unique glacier-side hotel.
The Glacier View Lodge, extensively renovated in 2019, is a one-of-a-kind hotel. It is located right at the edge of the Athabasca Glacier, providing a direct glacier-view from their main lobby, restaurant, and several hotel rooms.
We wouldn’t be lying when we said we booked a trip to the Columbia Icefield simply to stay at the hotel. We sat in their lounge for hours, with its grand window providing a stunning view of the Athabasca Glacier and surrounding mountains.
We didn’t want to leave! Basing yourself in the hotel for a few days is a great way to see the surrounding landscapes. This may be a glacier walk, ice fields tour, or a self-guided hike.
In our case, we chose to go on a hike to the nearby Wilcox Pass, which offers great views of the glacier. Plus it’s not too intense for what was a 6 month pregnant lady at the time!
The hike starts off in beautiful alpine meadows where wildflowers, streams and wild animals are in no shortage.
Not too far into the hike you reach the infamous Parks Canada Red Chairs. These chairs are placed in what are supposed to be Canada’s most treasured places. Described by Parks Canada as, “a place to rest after a leisurely stroll or to cheer your successful completion of a strenuous hike, our red chairs offer a place to slow down, to relax and to truly discover the best that Parks Canada has to offer.”
But the real views come from the summit of the hike, where you can sit and enjoy your lunch with the Athabasca Glacier proudly sitting in front of you:
This was one of those rare hikes where the entire trek is beautiful, and you’d feel satisfied even if you had to turn around mid way. We highly recommend it – and a visit to the icefields and lodge – if you are in the area!
Plus your drive to the ice field takes you through large areas destroyed by wildfire, where you now see a sea of pink. Brightly colored fireweeds flourish in this environment, and stand out remarkably against the otherwise harsh landscape of burned snags.